No one will ever confuse USA Network’s Suits for a great show, but it is a highly entertaining one. It’s also been very good, over the course of the series, at setting up intense dramatic storylines, but historically, it’s been very bad at resolving them. Last year, in fact, I wrote a tribute to the Ballsiest Plot Device in all of Television: Suits’ manilla folder. Because no matter the case, no matter the stakes, every time the writers on Suits wrote themselves into a corner — which is nearly every episode — they would trot out the miracle manilla folder, with a mysterious sheet of paper inside that solves every dilemma.
Can’t win a case? Someone’s going to prison? The firm is dissolving? A competing firm has them dead-to-rights on the law? Doesn’t matter. At the end of each episode, Harvey or Mike would pull out a manilla folder, throw it across opposing counsel’s desk, puff out his chest, and exclaim: You’re fucked.
Do we ever see the contents of what’s inside the folder? No, not really. The writers skip the logic and go straight to the payoff and subsequent celebration, and the characters are likable and attractive enough that we forgive the plot holes, because it’s not like we watch Suits for the complex plotlines.
This season, however, gave us the biggest twist ending of the series: Suits didn’t cop out. There were no last second miracles, no manilla folders or deus ex Moffats. The series followed through on a storyline and the characters — the heroes — actually paid the consequences.
For those following along, the midseason finale this year saw Mike Ross arrested for a crime he actually committed, the very crime that is the central premise of the show: Mike has been practicing law, all series long, without having gone to law school. He knows how to be a lawyer, but he is not technically one, and that fact finally came crashing down in the show’s fifth season.
The last eight episodes have tracked the trial of Mike Ross for fraud, and the series has done nice work delivering on the character drama. Mostly, though, the question has been: How will Mike and Harvey get themselves out of this one? What piece of paper will they pull out of the manilla folder? There were moments where it looked like they might pull it off with jury nullification, pulling a shady deal, or selling someone else out.
The problem all season, however, is that we know that Mike Ross is guilty of the crime he was being tried for, and the moral compromises the characters put themselves through to save Mike from prison seemed unfair. Mike is a good guy, who largely uses his legal skills to do good things. It didn’t seem right that he was trying to subvert the law to escape punishment, no matter his intentions.
That’s why it came as a huge surprise when — after several Hail Marys almost succeeded — that Mike took a deal to go to prison for two years. Not only that, Harvey’s attempts to set aside the plea bargain were also unsuccessful. In the end, much like Riggins in the season four finale of Friday Night Lights, Mike went to prison to pay the price for the laws he actually broke. Equally devastating is the fact that all the attorneys in Harvey and Jessica’s firm left to competing firms because of what Mike did.
For once, there was no magic manilla folder. Suits did something almost unheard of for a drama of its ilk: It forced the characters to pay the consequences of their actions. Mike’s going to jail, and Harvey and Jessica have lost the firm they’ve spent so long building up.
How the series manages to pick itself back up next season — with Mike in prison and the firm in tatters — is another question entirely, and that’s a question I’m not even sure showrunner Aaron Korsh can answer yet.
My friend Jon Cowan taught me 2take the swing & have faith we can figure it out. I'm suing you if we can't… https://t.co/nkFGiy4PE5— Aaron Korsh (@akorsh9) March 3, 2016
RIP, Manilla Folders.